By Celeste M. Smucker –
Albemarle County has everything Charlottesville area home buyers want, from gorgeous views and a wealth of outdoor activities, to easy access to all of the region’s lifestyle amenities. And while some parts of the County have a definite urban vibe, others feature a rural setting with privacy, acreage and even more expansive views of the mountains than are available closer in.
Albemarle residents also value their proximity to entertainment, sports and cultural activities associated with the University and the Downtown Mall. In addition, our nationally recognized medical care services and active job market are big draws and why many home buyers start their search in Albemarle.
The County’s active real estate market offers everything from townhomes and condos to villas and single family residences in a wide range of prices. Indeed, most buyers will find housing that suits them, although first timers may be increasingly frustrated by the limited number of affordable options.
Tight inventory also presents challenges for buyers at higher price points causing many to consider building. They may have to wait longer to move in, but when they do they have a home that suits their needs whether that is space for a growing family or a situation where they can age gracefully in place.
Most of Albemarle’s real estate activity, including new construction, is concentrated in a few spots thanks to the County’s comprehensive plan that restricts growth and development to designated areas that make up just five percent of its total.
If you want to live in a neighborhood, look to Pantops on the east, Crozet to the west and the Hollymead area to the north. Another option is neighborhoods south of town that have rapidly grown in popularity since the opening of 5th Street Station with its shopping, entertainment and other essential services.
Privacy seekers will find that Albemarle also offers a lot in the way of horse farms and estates and that much of the land is protected from future development by conservation easements. The County also features walkable neighborhoods where community-oriented residents can meet friends for coffee, work out at the gym, visit a hair salon or see a health care or other service provider all close to home.
Why Home Buyers Love Albemarle
People move to Albemarle to be close to jobs at the University and in the growing high-tech sector. Many also appreciate Charlottesville’s reputation for being a great place to retire—and the retirees are often University grads who fell in love with the mountains when they were students and finally make good on their dream to return.
Quality of life is also reflected in the availability of excellent medical care that is increasingly important to people as they age.
Fortunately UVA Hospital, is ranked #1 in Virginia, and has national ranking in six adult and four children’s specialties according to US News. The hospital also received the highest ratings possible in six procedures or conditions. Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital ranked #18 in Virginia and is considered high performing in four procedures or conditions of adults.
Another highlight of the Albemarle lifestyle is the schools, which are of special importance to families. Niche.com recently ranked Albemarle schools at # 258 out of 10,626 school districts nationwide, and #3 of 131 districts in Virginia. Rankings are based on indicators such as test scores, college readiness, graduation rates, SAT/ACT scores, and teacher quality.
Albemarle’s Lively Real Estate Market
Thanks to its lifestyle offerings and desirable, close-in location, Albemarle has a very busy real estate market.
The Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) recently released figures on 4th Quarter 2017 activity and reported a 13.9 percent year-over-year increase in Albemarle’s closed sales for single-family detached homes and a 7.3 percent increase in sales of attached homes.
Strong pending sales compared to the 4th quarter of 2016 (a 12.7 percent increase in attached and a huge 24.3 percent increase in detached pendings) will get 2018 off to an impressive start as well. However, substantial year-over-year inventory reductions suggest the market will still be tight and that prices will continue to rise.
Inventory shortages are a challenge that frustrate buyers and agents alike. Ann Hay Hardy with Frank Hardy Sotheby’s International Realty explained that “inventory is low and has been for awhile. It’s definitely a sellers’ market.” She added that some areas are hotter than others noting that in-town listings are very high in demand.
It’s not just more urban listings that are selling, though. Albemarle agents are also pleased with improvements in the market for rural properties.
Nest Realty Group’s John Ince noted that rural buyers seem increasingly concerned about living close to town. A veteran of 30+ years in the local real estate market, Ince reports what he calls “a change in attitude in this current generation of near-retirees” who still long for the peace and quiet of the countryside but want to be close to all of Charlottesville’s many amenities. He described any rural property less than 20 minutes from town as “golden.”
Hay Hardy described the “really good activity” in country markets noting that, “I am very encouraged.” She is especially pleased with the sales of bigger farms and estates, those defined as having over 100 acres, possibly with multiple outbuildings or a manor house, and sell for over $3 million.
While everyone loves the idea of an active real estate market, the demand for homes close-in to the action pushes prices up and makes Albemarle an expensive place to live compared to others of similar size, said Rives Bailey, Broker with Montague Miller and Co. – Downtown.
On the other hand, thanks to Albemarle’s amenities such as the schools, quality of life variables and resources like arts and outdoor activities, the market there “is on much less of a roller coaster than elsewhere,” Bailey reported, stating that even during the recent downturn, the market in Albemarle did not suffer as much as other parts of the state, some of which are still in recovery.
Boomers and Millennials Dominate
Bailey described two big demographic groups that dominate the current market, Boomers and Millennials. Many in both groups are moving closer to town (and that includes Albemarle areas like Crozet or Pantops) but for different reasons.
The Boomers are often those who at one time moved to the country to enjoy the privacy of living on 2-10 acres. Now they are ready to downsize and want a home near medical care and other essential services along with entertainment venues and cultural activities.
Millennials also prefer being closer in, in part because they are social and want to be near each other. They also want easy access to entertainment and restaurants.
For both of these groups Albemarle locations such as Crozet, Pantops, Hollymead or neighborhoods south of town near 5th Street Station, offer what they’re looking for. And while these areas are not walking distance from the Downtown Mall, they are still close enough for buyers to enjoy it easily.
Demand for close-in housing from both of these two large demographic groups is a big part of what drives the growth of the Albemarle market, and what is causing prices to rise so rapidly. Sellers who want to take advantage of these favorable market conditions should call their agents today about getting their homes listed. They may be surprised at the price they can expect and how quickly they get an offer.
First Time Buyers
A group that is especially impacted by rising prices is first time buyers. There are still some options out there for this group, but it is a challenging market for them and they may have to settle for older homes, Bailey said. While livable, these properties may need work and require that buyers be willing to take on renovation projects the first several years they live there.
In reference to first time buyers, Hay Hardy described “huge price increases, seemingly overnight,” that are especially difficult at the lower end of the spectrum because they can price buyers out of the market all together. Her advice to first timers is that if you find a house you like and can afford don’t waste time thinking about it but rather, “jump fast.”
Albemarle’s Other Buyers
For people who move from up north, our climate—which is relatively mild but still has four seasons—is a big draw. We also gets our share of buyers from Florida who relocate here after living through a hurricane or experiencing a couple of years of no autumn or spring.
Of course these out-of-state buyers also appreciate the much lower prices, property tax rates, and heating costs compared to the Northeast, or Northern Virginia.
Hay Hardy sees buyers from three distinct groups. A third of them are local and moving up to more space for their growing families. Another third are from out of town and not familiar with Charlottesville. Often they are people who read about the area or were driving through on their way somewhere else, stopped for lunch and decided to stay.
Still others are those with a connection to the University who find a way to come back to the beautiful place they remember from their younger days.
A big beneficiary of inventory shortages and increasing prices is new construction. The high prices of new homes preclude building as an option for most first timers (although they should ask their agent about townhomes), but there is a huge demand at the upper end of the market.
The area south of town where several new communities have recently come online is a good example. Greg Slater with Nest Realty Group reports that new construction contracts for 2017 were up 25 percent in that area, a tremendous increase.
He cited examples such as Oak Hill Farm stating: “Marketing launched in late 2016 but before roads and infrastructure had even started. Sales started before buyers would even know when they could have their home or drive to their lot. In 2017, 38 homes sold with an average price of $633 thousand.” Another new neighborhood, Sunset Overlook, had 13 sales in December alone.
New construction is also booming in Crozet, another popular Albemarle County location. Jim Duncan and David Farrell, both with Nest Realty Group, reported in a podcast that 113 new homes were built in Crozet last year compared to 90 in 2016, an impressive 26 percent increase.
If you want to live close-in and still enjoy a quieter lifestyle, call your agent today about Albemarle. If resale is what appeals you have options, but inventory remains tight so expect to decide quickly when you find the perfect house. For buyers who can afford it, new construction is also an exciting choice. Count on your agent to help you make the most of that option as well.
Celeste Smucker is a writer and blogger who lives near Charlottesville